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Two Say Priest Made Them Strip

Mar 14, 2002 | San Francisco Chronicle

Two witnesses in the trial of an inactive Santa Rosa priest accused of molesting young parishioners said yesterday that the defendant had made them strip under the guise of helping them be more comfortable with their bodies and "open to God."

The victims, who recalled being groped repeatedly during counseling sessions with Donald Wren Kimball, were the third and fourth of five corroborating witnesses who are being called by the prosecution to show a pattern of misconduct.

Kimball, 58, is charged in Sonoma County Superior Court with raping a teenage girl in 1977 at Resurrection Parish in Santa Rosa and of lewd conduct with another teenage girl in 1981 at St. John's Rectory in Healdsburg.

The two alleged victims are scheduled to take the stand after the final corroborating witness testifies today. According to prosecutor Gary Medvigy, Kimball was molesting teenage churchgoers within two years of his ordainment in 1969.

A woman identified only as Susan said yesterday that she had sought counseling with Kimball in 1971, when she was 17 and he was a 27-year-old leader of a church group in Eureka.

During the meetings inside the Sacred Heart Church rectory, Kimball touched her breasts and private parts during "massages" under the guise of "getting in touch with my feelings."

She said Kimball had told her the touching would help her be "open to God and the world," and urged her to try "naked touching."

After a year of prodding, she finally agreed to take off her clothes. She said she remembered him playing with her pubic hair and then placing her hand on his penis before she "blacked out."

The second witness, known only as Rebecca, said Kimball had lured her into counseling sessions with him at Resurrection Parish when she was 14 in 1977. Wiping away tears, she recounted how during each session he would unhook her bra and touch her breasts, then put his hand inside her underwear.

"He would take my hand and put it on his crotch," she said. "He wanted me to touch him there, but I would take my hand away."

Defense lawyer Chris Andrian pointed out that Susan had been 18 before she ever was naked with Kimball, that she had asked him to be part of her wedding three years after the alleged incidents, and that both women had visited him voluntarily numerous times without complaining to anybody.

Criminal trials involving priestly misconduct are rare. Interest in the case has been heightened by the conviction last month of a Boston priest who was bounced from one parish to another, all the while molesting children virtually under the noses of church officials.

Kimball's alleged victims remained silent for years, coming forward only after the statute of limitations for sex crimes involving children age 14 or younger was extended in the mid-1990s.

The Roman Catholic Church reached a $1.6 million settlement of a civil lawsuit filed by four alleged victims of Kimball in April 2000, but this is the first time he has faced criminal charges.

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